Lanterns lit up the windows at the Pavement Coffeehouse on Gainsborough Street Monday evening. People of all backgrounds from around Boston gathered to create their own lights and take part in the celebration of Hanukkah as part of the interactive display, “We Are the Shamash.” This is only one of eight pieces making up an art exhibit that’s lighting up Boston city windows this holiday season.
#8Nights8Windows, which began Sunday and will last until Monday, is Boston’s first Jewish public art project. Put on by Boston’s New Center for Arts and Culture, the eight-piece art project has been in development for more than three years.
Following the holiday tradition of placing Christmas displays in shop windows, coordinators of the project have placed the artwork in eight different windows around Boston. Each piece in the project represents Hanukkah from a different perspective through mixed media, and relies upon the community around them for inspiration.
Within the art in the exhibition, there is a common theme — the light of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is also known as the festival of lights. Traditionally, a Jewish family lights a candle on each of the holiday’s eight nights. Laura Mandel, the New Center’s executive director and project lead, explained how the tradition inspired the project.
“You’re supposed to put the candles in windows,” she said. “We wanted to literally place the light of Hanukkah in the window.”
However, Mandel said #8Nights8Windows is more than just a representation of the symbols present in the tradition of Hanukkah. The project is also intended to inform people about the uniting aspects of the holiday.
“It’s about the light, but also about coming together around it,” Mandel said. “Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with the community, friends and family.”
Each of the artists involved in the project has represented these ideas in their displays through using various representations of light.
In order to create the featured displays, #8Nights8Windows organizers called for artists to submit proposals of designs that told “a unique story of miracle, illumination and innovation.” A panel of judges chose each of the featured artists.
Artist Matt Brand’s contribution to the project is the piece “Luminous Miracle,” displayed at United South End Settlements.
“The purpose of all my art is to provoke a sense of curiosity and maybe even wonder,” Brand said.
His art captures the spirit of Hanukkah by mimicking “a child’s delight with lighting candles,” he said. It implies a natural fascination with the rituals of Hanukkah, as he said people are “wired to be fascinated with fire at a young age.”
Similarly, artist Gianna Stewart’s piece “Capturing the Sunrise” uses a digital screen to depict a rising sun in the window of Cambridge Trust Company while the sun sets in Boston.
“I hope that it’s a bright light for the night,” she said. “Something that grabs attention in a new way.”
Furthermore, the universality of the feelings inspired by Hanukkah is made evident by the fact that not all of the artists involved with the project are Jewish. Mandel said that having a diverse group of artist “brings a great global perspective to Hanukkah.”
This structure coincides with the overall goal of the project.
“It’s about exposing people to Hanukkah,” Mandel said of #8Nights8Windows. “When it comes to Hanukkah, it’s not a religious holiday. It’s cultural.”
Mandel said she hopes the project will expose the Boston community to the cultural practices and values of Judaism.
“Normally, the whole month of December is about Christmas,” said Sydney Siwinski, a freshman in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. “But now Boston kids who are Jewish can go up to the windows and say, ‘Look, my holiday is cool too.’”